Ital­ian Em­bassy bats off MP’s claim of oil and gas cor­rup­tion

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Nazih Os­seiran

BEIRUT: The Ital­ian am­bas­sador “con­firmed” an Ital­ian com­pany pre­vi­ously qual­i­fied to bid for oil ex­plo­ration li­censes had no knowl­edge of claims they were asked for bribes by Le­banese of­fi­cials, Ni­co­las Tueni, the min­is­ter of state for com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion, said Sun­day.

The en­voy’s re­mark came dur­ing a Fri­day meet­ing be­tween Tueni and Ital­ian Am­bas­sador to Le­banon Mas­simo Marotti fol­low­ing a two­day par­lia­men­tary ses­sion dur­ing which MPs ques­tioned the Cab­i­net on govern­ment progress.

Al­le­ga­tions of graft in con­nec­tion to the bid­ding process for oil ex­plo­ration li­censes sur­faced dur­ing the assem­bly. MP Boutros Harb al­leged that politi­cians had de­manded mil­lions of dol­lars from Ital­ian oil gi­ant Eni SpA if any po­ten­tial bid for li­censes were to be suc­cess­ful.

“The am­bas­sador con­firmed to us that the par­tic­i­pat­ing Ital­ian com­pany [Eni] has no knowl­edge per­tain­ing to state­ments on the mat­ter,” a state­ment from Tueni’s of­fice read. “This is an es­tab­lished Ital­ian com­pany that is com­mit­ted to [ad­her­ing to] the ap­plied laws, trans­parency treaties and com­bat­ting cor­rup­tion.”

The am­bas­sador and the min­is­ter dis­cussed “al­le­ga­tions by … MP Boutros Harb that some politi­cians have asked for bribes to fa­cil­i­tate ob­tain­ing the [oil] con­tracts,” the state­ment added.

In 2013, Eni was ap­proved to bid for fu­ture oil and gas con­tracts once th­ese open up. The govern­ment re­launched the bid­ding process in Fe­bru­ary this year; li­censes are due to be awarded later this year.

How­ever, dur­ing the Par­lia­men­tary ses­sion, Harb claimed that Eni had with­drawn its ap­pli­ca­tion fol­low­ing de­mands from of­fi­cials for kick­backs and bribes.

“[Eni], one of the big­gest oil ex­plo­ration com­pa­nies … with­drew from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the li­cens­ing round in Le­banon af­ter Le­banese of­fi­cials in the En­ergy Min­istry asked it to pay hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, up to 10 per­cent of its profit, in or­der to grant it [oil] ex­plo­ration and pro­duc­tion li­censes,” Harb told Par­lia­ment.

Last Fe­bru­ary, the Fi­nan­cial Times re­ported that Eni’s cur­rent CEO Clau­dio Descalzi and for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Paolo Sca­roni were charged by Ital­ian pros­e­cu­tors with in­ter­na­tional cor­rup­tion in con­nec­tion with a $1.3 bil­lion oil ex­plo­ration li­cense in Nige­ria. The com­pany de­nied the charges at the time.

De­spite his state­ments in Par­lia­ment, Harb down­played his claims when talk­ing to The Daily Star Sun­day. “I am not ac­cus­ing any­one or say­ing that this ac­tu­ally hap­pened,” Harb said. “I am say­ing that this was cir­cu­lated by some me­dia out­lets and there should be a se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion into it so we can see if it is hap­pen­ing or not. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has to in­clude tes­ti­mony from the con­cerned [Le­banese] of­fi­cials.”

The “real dan­ger,” Harb claimed, stems from the ap­par­ent ques­tion­able his­tory of a num­ber of com­pa­nies that he said had sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions.

“Some of th­ese com­pa­nies have a his­tory of fraud­u­lent trans­ac­tions and theft across the world,” he al­leged. “Oth­ers are only shell com­pa­nies, or are com­pa­nies that were only es­tab­lished in the weeks lead­ing up to the start of the ten­der pe­riod. There has to be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the peo­ple be­hind th­ese com­pa­nies must be re­vealed and sub­ject to public [scru­tiny].”

Harb de­clined to name any of the spe­cific com­pa­nies.

Although Le­banon has no con­firmed off­shore oil and gas re­serves, in­di­ca­tors point to a high like­li­hood of some re­serves.

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